Rail to the airport – the March of Folly continues

Well, thank goodness for David Parker.   By his stepping in to stop another Auckland Council/CCO planning debacle the Minister for the Environment, Attorney-General etc, etc, has achieved a much better outcome for the waterfront and the America’s Cup. It’s a pity this highly-intelligent, experienced politician (and Grey Lynn resident) is not in charge of transport as he was during the Clark government. Instead of the dubious proposition of light rail (trams) to the airport, Auckland could be focussing on light rail on the waterfront, where the existing heritage tramway (engineered to modern light rail standards) could readily be connected to Britomart and the CRL, as pledged in the 2012 Waterfront Plan, in time for the America’s Cup.

I wrote a year ago on the trams to the airport debacle citing historian Barbara Tuchman’s acclaimed March of Folly – from Troy to Vietnam (1985). Tuchman’s book was about ‘the pervasive presence, through the ages, of failure, mismanagement, and delusion in government – contrary to its own self interest.’ It will be recalled this particular ‘March of Folly’- began in June 2016 when the boards of NZTA and Auckland Transport overturned previous plans for heavy rail (trains) to the airport. Unfortunately new mayor Phil Goff and the new governnent led by tyro transport ministers Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter (but not Winston Peters who prefers trains) have fallen into lockstep.

Auckland International Airport is of critical economic importance to Auckland and to New Zealand – the premier gateway to the country. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars recently spent on road construction, congestion on the route to the airport is already back where it was 10 years ago, chronic at peak times, periodically at grid-lock. With airport passenger movements currently 19 million per year and predicted to increase to 40 million by 2040, this chronic congestion can only get worse – with serious consequences.

It need not be so. Following on from work initiated by the Auckland Regional Council, in September 2011, a multi-agency study after examining light rail, busway and heavy rail options, concluded that heavy rail from Onehunga and Puhinui (10 km and 6.8 km from airport respectively) would be the ‘most economically efficient’ solution – providing a fast train journey to and from downtown Auckland, including the future CRL stations like Aotea and K Road, and, in some with cases cross-platform transfers, all points on the rail network eg Parnell, Newmarket, Henderson, Glen Innes, Papakura, Pukekohe, and ultimately Hamilton.

In 2012, endorsed by AT and after wide public consultation this became a policy commitment in the Auckland Plan: ‘route protect a dedicated rail connection in the first decade (2011-2020); construct in the second decade (2021-2030)’ – [after the City Rail Link (CRL)].

However the consensus, as so often happens (Auckland has a history of this), was overturned when AT bureaucrats (none of whom had any experience with light rail) claimed trams travelling from the CBD to the airport via Dominion Road despite stopping at 20 tram stops and numerous intersections while keeping to the 50 kph speed limit would get to the airport within one minute of electric trains travelling up to 110 kph. In late 2016 soon after the election of Mayor Goff, the favoured Onehunga to airport rail corridor was blocked by AT when it demolished the Neilson Street overbridge immediately to the south of the Onehunga train station, putting the road straight across the rail corridor.

Melbourne has the most highly developed, sophisticated light rail system in the world. Unlike Auckland however Melbourne is NOT opting for a light rail connection to its international airport – but heavy rail. This on the grounds that trains can carry a lot more people and luggage, and providing a faster, more predictable journey-time than street-running trams. It’s a decision based on decades of experience operating both light and heavy rail modes.

Last month the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a A$5 billion Federal government contribution to building four dedicated heavy rail routes between Melbourne International Airport and the CBD. The Australian decision is instructive and should give our new government reason to pause.

However in Auckland there seems there is a yawning gap opening up between the political class and ordinary citizens. To most Aucklanders I speak to, the idea of trams to the airport is a joke – and now not so funny given Aucklanders will have to pay for the $4 billion estimated cost of the airport and Westgate tram lines, not only in their rates but also in an extra double-whammy fuel tax – for a project that has no business case.

Light rail to the airport will take a lot longer to build, provide a slower journey, serve a much more restricted catchment and be considerably more expensive than extending the existing rail network. Why on earth isn’t the new government capitalising on the huge strategic investment going into the CRL?

Barbara Tuchman made up some rules on how government policy decisions get to qualify as a ‘March of Folly’. First the policy must be contrary to self-interest, [Check]; secondly a feasible alternative policy must be available [Check]; and finally the policy must be that of a group (not an individual insane ruler) [Check].

The feasible alternative of connecting Auckland Airport to the main trunk line at Puhinui has been costed by one recent study at around $750m. This corridor must be protected urgently before it too is sabotaged. There certainly is a role for modern trams as we reach maximum bus capacity in our busy inner city routes and waterfront – but trams will be a hugely expensive failure as an Airport connection. David Parker help!


Versions of this article were published in May editions of Ponsonby News, The Hobson and NZ Herald (1 May 2018) and on The Daily Blog and on Whale Oil blog sites.

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Kaiserschlacht and the Third World War – ANZAC DAY speech – Waiheke Dawn Service

On this day the people of New Zealand and Australia gather as they have since the first Anzac Day, to commemorate the fallen and honour those men and women who have served in all our wars.

This is the fourth year of the commemorations of the centenary of the Great War, New Zealand’s bloodiest war, with some 17,000 killed and another 41,000 wounded, and the origin of Anzac Day, so it is appropriate again to cast our minds back to this time 100 years ago. In April 1918 the climatic battle that would decide the outcome of the Great War was raging across northern France. Difficult though it may be for us in the 21st century to comprehend, New Zealand soldiers who first went into battle at Gallipoli on that April morning in 1915, were still fighting on the western front three years later. In the crisis of late March 1918 the New Zealand Division was called on to play a role that would help change the course of history.

Miraculously the NZ Division had recovered from the dreadful slaughter it had suffered at Passchendaele the previous October when in one morning 843 NZ soldiers were killed after being ordered to attack in the mud and rain against curtains of barbed wire and walls of machine guns. Despite this devastating blow, the NZ Division remained one of the elite formations of the British Army. When in March 1918 the German High Command launched its supreme effort to win the war, the offensive called Kaiserschlacht (the Kaiser’s battle) or Ludendorff’s Offensive, attacking with overwhelming numbers of troops and artillery, spearheaded by highly-trained storm troopers, the British 3rd and 5th Armies reeled back in retreat. In a matter of days the Germans had advanced nearly 100km. All the gains that had been won over months during the bloody attacks on the Somme of 1916 were lost, indeed now at stake was the war itself. As the German armies advanced on the strategic city of Amiens, the British high command turned to the New Zealanders and the Australians. Such was the reputation by then of these ANZAC troops, that when they moved up, along roads crowded with retreating British troops and French civilians, their very arrival stilled the panic. Military historian Glyn Harper in his book Dark Journey Passchendaele, the Somme and the NZ experience on the Western Front quotes from the diary of Lieutenant Kenneth Luke: ‘We met remnants of the British Divisions that had fought from the beginning of the terrible battle struggling along the road & everywhere our peaked hats were espied the anxious questions were asked ‘Are the ANZACs coming? And cheers and smiles met us everywhere.”

Harper adds:

‘When asked why the French civilians had halted their flight from the Germans at Amiens, the answer attributed to a French general, no less, was:

They had learnt that the troops they had just passed were the New Zealanders moving in and so there was no need for them to move out & so the evacuation came to an end. Yes he [the French general said,] such was the reputation of the New Zealanders’.

The Anzacs would go on to meet the advancing Germans head on and stopped them. Amiens did not fall, the German offensive failed. The NZers making their reputation as, the British military historian John Keegan described them, ‘the best soldiers in the world in the 20th century’ would go on to play a key role in the fighting, right up until 11 November 1918 when the Great War finally came to an end.

I recall these events not out of chauvinistic pride, or to glorify war, that is not the New Zealand way, but to remember a part of our history almost completely forgotten and to remind ourselves again of the calibre and courage of those New Zealanders and the sacrifices made by them and the whole nation. One wonders why those events largely disappeared from collective memory. Perhaps Harper provides an answer when he writes: ‘Life for all New Zealanders could not turn back to 1914. Too much blood had been shed and too much pain, often borne in silence, endured. The shadow of death had fallen across the land and it would remain for some time to come.’ Perhaps another reason was because the First World War, supposedly the ‘war to end all wars’ was followed only 21 years later by the Second World War – when again New Zealand was called upon to make another great sacrifice.

And then, only narrowly avoided was a third world war in the 20th century, a nuclear war, 20 years or so after the second, avoided mainly because most of the world leaders and statesmen of that time– unlike the leaders of today – had experienced war at first hand and rightly fearing its consequences, they pulled back from the brink.

Those world leaders are no longer with us and today according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Science and Security Board we are closer to a third world war than we ever have been. Two weeks ago, the Doomsday Clock that symbol, maintained since 1947, representing the likelihood of a man-made global castastrophe was moved up to two minutes before midnight.

So as we gather once again in the darkness of this Autumn morning, as is our custom, to keep faith with the fallen, and to remember the sacrifices of our ancestors, I wonder if only those people could look forward 100 years and see us gathered here – and all across New Zealand, keeping vigil. I’m sure they would be comforted to know that they had not been forgotten. They would be even more comforted to know I am sure, if we people of the 21st century – in these dangerous times of spiralling international tensions, did not forget the lessons of 1914 and the chain of events that spun out of control – and could not be stopped – that led on to a catastrophe then and could lead on to an even greater catastrophe now.


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‘Have Your Say’ and ‘consultation frenzy’

‘Consultation Frenzy’, my friend Luke Niue calls it. Over the past four weeks Auckland Council has been consulting on the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan – along with a stack of other plans. The Long Term Plan (LTP) is simply council’s budget projected out over ten years. It will cost a truly massive $65 billion, comprising $25b of capital and $40b of operational expenditure. Breaking it down to a yearly basis that’s $2.5b of capex and $4b of opex. It will be funded annually by $1.69b from rates; with the balance from borrowings, user charges, government subsidies eg for public transport; and dividends from Ports of Auckland and Auckland Airport. This year rates will increase on average by 2.5%. Of course depending on how individual property valuations have moved, many homeowners will be paying more, some will pay less.

But the Super City as we know is a hungry beast. Rates and all the other normal revenue sources will be insufficient to cover its spending. A large part of the problem is due to the cost of Auckland’s growth (which government and council policy actively encourages), including NZ’s extraordinarily high construction costs. Part of it frankly, is that Auckland Council simply spends too much on itself; and part of it is fiscally self-induced. The existing (2015-2025) Long Term Plan was budgeted on rates increases of 3.5% per year. However in 2016, Phil Goff while campaigning for the mayoralty promised to hold rates increases to 2.5%. In this new LTP rates increases will go back to 3.5% but in ‘Year 3’ – after the next local body elections. To cover the shortfall, last year the mayor pushed through a targeted rate on accommodation, the so-called ‘bed tax’. Unfortunately, as it turned out, for reasons never satisfactorily explained, while Auckland central and Waiheke accommodation providers have to pay the full rate, those in other parts of the region, eg Waitakere, Franklin and most of Rodney pay less or nothing at all. This means that the targeted rate only brought in about $13.5m, half that originally estimated. This year the council is proposing new, additional forms of revenue, most significantly a regional fuel tax of 11.5c per litre. This will go towards the proposed $12b, LTP transport spend. Exactly for what though, rather surprisingly, is still not clear. The mayor announced the setting up a ‘political advisory group’ of his close political colleagues to work out where the fuel tax will go. On top of that, additional targeted rates are being proposed to provide funding for stormwater to reduce the pollution of our harbour, beaches and streams ($66 per year), and for environmental initiatives $21 or $47 per year).

If you thought the LTP was challenging enough to respond to, there is also the raft of other documents the council is consulting on – notably a ‘refreshed’ Auckland Plan. Remember that?   The Auckland Plan, legally the ‘Spatial Plan for Auckland’, was produced in 2012 under Mayor Len Brown and designed for 30 years. A great deal of funding and public input went into it and the document as it turned out was actually pretty good.   However council officers argued that despite its time-frame, it’s already out of date and needing ‘refreshing’.   This they have done by removing much of the content of the original.

Of real concern chapters dedicated to Auckland’s natural environment and built heritage have been removed and the words ‘built heritage’ totally expunged. This I believe is totally out of step with what most Aucklanders would want. The following ‘Direction’ I think, sums up the ‘refreshed’ Auckland Plan rather succinctly, ‘Use Auckland’s growth and development to protect and enhance our environment’. Oh really? So extreme is the council’s ‘refreshing’ (read gutting) the new Auckland Plan is no longer compliant with the requirements of the Local Government Act legislation.

Council is also consulting on a new Waste Management Plan with changes to services, including lucrative outsourced ‘pay-as-you-throw’ and highly centralised kerbside food waste collections. Finally there is the Regional Pest Management Plan, which deals with serious problems like kauri die-back and ecological pests but unfortunately also includes a silly proposal to microchip pet cats.

So how do Aucklanders respond to this ‘consultation frenzy’ in a meaningful way in such a short time frame? Unfortunately the traditional right of ordinary ratepayers to present submissions to the councillors was quietly dropped three or so years ago. Now only ‘key’ or ‘regional stakeholders’ retain this right. Regrettably attempts by some of us in the last two years to restore this right have been voted down. Interested citizens, not part of a recognised lobby group, are therefore encouraged to attend ‘Have Your Say’ meetings. The problem with these is that, despite their name, they tend to be dominated by council people having their say.  Ratepayers are also encouraged to send their submissions to a website. My advice is to make sure you also email them to the mayor and to all the councillors. Good luck. This council’s track record for listening is not exactly encouraging. And remember while you may ‘have your say’ the council will almost certainly be having its way.


This article appeared in the April issue of Ponsonby News

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Governor William Hobson – the man who gave us the Treaty

Early on Waitangi Day morning a small group of inner city residents, mainly from Grafton, Parnell and Arch Hill but even from as far afield as Ponsonby and  Grey Lynn, as they had the year before, quietly gathered at the grave of Governor William Hobson to pay tribute to the man who gave us the Treaty of Waitangi and brought New Zealand into the British Empire. A wreath, posies of flowers and a New Zealand flag were respectfully placed on the marble gravestone.

Waitangi Day morning. Inner city residents gather at the grave of Governor William Hobson

Waitangi Day morning. Inner city residents gather at the grave of Governor William Hobson

Waitangi Day and the Treaty has had more than its share of controversies over recent years, so much so that Captain William Hobson R.N. and his role in those momentous events of early February 1840 has been rather overlooked.

What of the man himself? Interesting enough, this very dutiful servant of Empire was born in Ireland in 1792, the son of an Anglo-Irish barrister in the city of Waterford.

Hobson joined the Royal Navy in 1803 during the Napoleonic Wars, just one month short of 11. Graduating to midshipman he passed his examinations and was commissioned lieutenant in 1813. Command followed in 1824. Most of Hobson’s sea service was in the West Indies intercepting pirate ships and launching raids on their bases (’nests’). In those times this duty was especially arduous not least because of the region’s often deadly tropical diseases one of which Hobson reportedly contracted. Illness was followed by a period six years ashore on half pay.

However Hobson’s luck changed in 1834 when the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Auckland (George Eden), to Hobson’s eternal gratitude, arranged for him the highly desirable command of the frigate Rattlesnake. In her Hobson was posted to the East India Station, during which time he visited Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1837. While he was at Sydney Hobson was ordered to New Zealand to show the flag and to report on the country’s ‘lawless’ situation. His report so impressed his superiors it led to his appointment in 1839 as Consul to New Zealand.

Hobson’s Treaty of Waitangi and his achievement in persuading the leading rangatira of the north to sign it (they had very little to go on except for their impression of his integrity) was a remarkable triumph. But as so often happens great success was followed not by acclaim and happiness, but rather misfortune and sorrow. On 1 March Hobson suffered what is believed to be a hemiplegic stroke. However he soon recovered. Returning to full duties he resolved to move his capital to Tāmaki on the Waitematā harbour, thereby founding the city of Auckland. This, his second great historic accomplishment drew bitter criticism from NZ Company settlers in Wellington where almost overnight from canvas tents and nikau whares colonial society had sprung up complete with declaiming newspapers and turbulent meetings of irate settlers. Thereafter Hobson was constantly denounced by the colonists – even in Auckland! (Lending truth to the adage ‘no good deed goes unpunished’).

Hobson’s task to build a country with an administration that was hopelessly under-resourced, mediating between the Māori chiefs with whom he had signed the Treaty on the one hand, and land-hungry businessmen who proved to be more formidable than the pirates of the Caribbean, on the other, would have difficult enough for the most experienced politician or bureaucrat. William Hobson was neither of these. A sea officer trained to obey orders and to have his orders obeyed, he found criticism, especially public criticism, extremely difficult to bear. As Prof Russell Stone observed in his ‘From Tamaki-Makau-Rau to Auckland’:

‘In Captain William Hobson there was much to admire. He was brave, conscientious, and diligent in his public duties. His private life was beyond reproach; he was a loving husband and a devoted family man. Yet of all the governors…he was the least popular and the most calumniated.’

Dr Ron Trubuhovich in his remarkable investigation ‘Governor William Hobson – His Health problems and Final Illness’, wrote of Hobson’s mysterious final days:

‘During the months after returning to Auckland, pressures mounted, particularly at the hands of the town’s ‘Clique’ whose members hounded him mercilessly, instigating public meetings to humiliate him when his enfeebled condition was worsening. In Aug. 1842, too sick to attend public meetings, he was asked to sign petitions condemnatory of himself in attachments to memorials from citizens’ meetings’.

Dr Trubuhovich concluded ‘Perhaps it was all too much for him, he simply gave up in spirit and allowed/wished himself to die.’ He was only 49.

Governor Hobson, architect of the Treaty of Waitangi, founder of the modern state of New Zealand, founder of the city of Auckland, is buried in Symonds Street cemetery. It is a strange feeling to go there and stand at the grave of this ancient figure from an entirely different age to our own. There is a quietness there, even though it is only metres from the Southern Motorway on-ramp, where traffic roars by. He has lain there for 172 years, largely forgotten by the citizens of the country and the city he founded. He was the only governor to stay.

This article was published in the March issues of Ponsonby News and The Hobson

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The cycleway debate – next up, K Road.

In response to my December Ponsonby News column, I received from ratepayer Dave Lyons the following email. It was so compelling I thought I should share it.

…I am a Westmere resident and have watched in horror as they dug up Richmond road and Garnet road, spending millions and what do we get, nothing. Well, fewer car parks. I honestly have never seen such a waste of money as the Garnet road cycleway. The section that has been completed is an absolute joke. They built it across the grass berms outside peoples houses, which is exactly where the residents park their cars…And did they ever stop to ask the people who live here if we wanted this? No… And we dont!!!

So as we sit here, wondering why we have raw sewage rolling into the streams and into the harbour, we can sit back and look at the totally un-useable cycleway, which nobody wanted, and no-one will use. What a great use of our rates money. 

But seriously, when will AT have their heads pulled in? When will they stop this ridiculous war on cars, and when will they stop the absolute wasting of our money…Talking to you probably doesn’t highlight anything that you don’t already know, but the question still remains, why are they getting away with this? What do we, as in local ratepayers, have to do to get some common sense policies applied? As we seriously need to do something.

I mean how can any councillor or the mayor seriously stand there and say the council has no money, when we have this wastage happening all around us? How can someone have the bare-faced audacity to increase taxes (talking petrol tax here) when we have over $600 million being spent on cycleways? Really? I mean seriously? …My 6-year-old son would do a better job of prioritising initiatives than this. Its not rocket science. If we want to build trains then fine, spend the $600m on trains, but cycleways? Really I mean yes, lots of people cycle. But 90% do it for fun. Not for transport. So spending this sort of money on a leisure activity is crazy. Now I am not some overweight car lover, I cycle two or three times a week (only for fun), and ride a motorcycle to work every day, so I am not saying this out of any selfish desire for more roads, as such. But I mean 99% of people want to drive. 

Anyway. Rant over. I just feel absolutely disgusted with the way these organisations operate, with their bullshit business cases and international best practices. We need to stop this craziness…

Meanwhile Auckland Transport is pushing ahead in the face of growing public opposition. Over Christmas the focus shifted to Quay Street where 15 pohutukawa trees are being removed to make way for a cycleway extension. Protesters from Grey Lynn lent their support to the Urban Tree Alliance fighting to save these trees. But it is not just protesters, the Parnell Community Committee (PCC) an eminently respectable organization with the backing of the Parnell community have been trying to save these trees and the ‘canopied boulevard’ they form for months now. PCC is not against the cycleway extension but AT’s continued use of Quay Street as an all-day bus park. Actually AT and Council plans for Quay Street from the Strand bridge to Albert Street are a nightmare – a jumble of bad decisions.

The next area to watch will be Karangahape Road where AT plans to build cycle lanes on both sides of the street, potentially taking out dozens of car parks and loading zones at peak time. K Road retailers who are bravely prepared to put up with several years’ disruption caused directly or indirectly by City Rail Link construction (they have already lost a bunch of car parks and taxi stands due to relocated bus stops) are worried, given what has happened to businesses in Victoria and Albert Street and West Lynn, that this could be the last straw. Led by manager Michael Richardson (a cyclist himself) the Karangahape Road Business Association (KBA) has sent a well-argued submission to AT pointing out that the cycleway could be of ‘limited value to K Road businesses as the area would be ‘a thoroughfare rather than a destination.’ Meanwhile a ‘K Road Action Group’ with the slogan ‘Don’t kill K Road’ has joined the fight. K Road people are not anti-cycling or reactionary. Actually they are probably the most progressive, avant–garde set in the country. They argue for alternative cycle routes on or around K Road that don’t destroy parking that retailers especially depend on. Given the impacts of the CRL, not to mention light rail, the KBA is making a plea to AT to delay the cycleway until these regionally significant projects are completed. It’s not an unreasonable request given what at stake – the livelihoods of hundreds of small businesses and the viability of historic Karangahape Road itself as one of Auckland’s iconic shopping streets.


This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Ponsonby News. 

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Happy New Year 2018

I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a better year for Auckland Council too. Last month I remarked on the growing unpopularity of the Super City and its ‘council controlled’ Auckland Transport and predicted the new government sooner or later will have to do something about it. Auckland Transport (AT) especially has become a lightning rod for public discontent. Easily the majority of the complaints I receive as a councillor relate to AT’s failings. As I mentioned last month there is growing frustration across my ward, from Westmere to Parnell, at AT’s interpretation of what ‘public consultation’ means, especially in relation to cycleways and the removal of on-street car parks. What has happened at Grey Lynn is particularly unfortunate. Back in 2016 (against the advice of myself and the Waitematā Local Board), AT log-rolled through the cycleway consultation process during the local body election interregnum. There was little apparent willingness to take into account community views.   I know because I actually tried to participate, suggesting to AT officers that they trial a protected cycleway down the median strip in the centre of the road. This approach is used successfully overseas and does not impinge on car parks or traffic lanes. It’s a smart use of a very limited resource. But the AT people were not interested, it seems they had already made up their minds. Now cycleway construction in Grey Lynn and Westmere has raised a firestorm of opposition. Something similar is likely to happen in Parnell too if AT does not change its approach. AT is proposing cycle lanes for both sides of Gladstone Road, which will take out a lot of parking, some of it vital for the small retailers, and important for visitors to the Rose Gardens and the Holy Trinity Cathedral. This is causing major concern for local residents represented by the Parnell Community Committee and the Parnell Business Association. At the same time AT is planning major changes to parking rules, ‘parking improvements’, for the oldest parts of Parnell. Residents with no off-street parking are very worried about losing the right to park outside their homes. I attended the recent public consultation for local residents held in the annex of the Cathedral. AT was represented by a personable, polite man but I soon learned he was under strict orders from a committee of AT bureaucrats who apparently had very firm ideas on what they intended to do. That, I pointed out to him, is not the legal meaning of consultation – which is one has to be prepared to listen and to change one’s mind. I hope he does listen or rather the committee of bureaucrats he answers to does, otherwise Parnell is likely to see a repetition of the strife we are seeing in Grey Lynn.  This is all avoidable. Auckland Transport after much trial and error has developed residential parking schemes in St Mary’s Bay and Freemans Bay which work well. It bemuses me why they just don’t apply similar rules to Parnell. This will solve the main concern for residents, losing their parks outside their homes. As I have reminded AT officers on numerous occasions, some parts of Auckland, mainly around the inner city were built in the 19th century before the invention of the motorcar, other more outer suburbs were built because of the motorcar. One size does not fit all.

Another concern is AT’s nine month stop work at Parnell Station where despite the station not being anywhere near complete, and way-finding signage to the Museum non-existent for visitors from the city, patronage is up by a third to 1833 boardings per week as at October. A collective of artists, Te Tuhi Centre for Arts, has recently expressed interest in leasing the historic station building as a studio but needs AT to complete construction of the platform stairs and connect services. The precast concrete staircases having been lying at the site for so long now that they are barely visible in the long grass and weeds that have grown up around them. Meanwhile work on the proposed connecting walkway to Nicholls Lane and Stanley Street essential for those commuting to the university that AT promised would be completed late in December has not even started at the time of writing.

Happily for AT and all the rest of us, the Auckland Transport board has appointed a new chief executive. It is my hope Shane Ellison will be the proverbial new broom who will bring about a much needed culture change at Auckland Transport. Now that would be a great new year present for everyone.


This article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of The Hobson.

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‘Fear and loathing’ – Auckland Transport and the Super city

Receiving petitions outside AT head office from RMTU's Andrew Ward. From left Andrew,  Phil Morgan First Union, ML, Manoj  ? & Gary Froggatt Tramways Union. (Photo Jared Abbott)

Receiving petitions outside AT head office from RMTU’s Andrew Ward. From left Andrew, Phil Morgan First Union, ML, Manoj ? & Gary Froggatt Tramways Union. (Photo Jared Abbott)

Our new coalition government is faced with many challenges – much of them relating to Auckland. But one issue never discussed in the election campaign but one I believe the new government will have to tackle sooner or later is Auckland Council. Like many of the other problems Auckland Council is a legacy of the former government. The so-called ‘Super City’ it must be remembered was Rodney Hide and Steven Joyce’s baby and was imposed on Aucklanders without any vote. In fact it was one of the first things the National-led government did. It was created in great haste and now, as the saying goes, it is being regretted at leisure – by an increasing number of Aucklanders. Recent disclosures about an unbudgeted blowout on staff salaries amounting to $42m, ‘communications’ costing $45.6m per year, and $1.3m spent on business class travel and luxury hotels, unhappily have coincided with widespread public complaints about the council’s failure to manage even basic services such as mowing the grass in local parks.

The last time Auckland Council surveyed the public, in 2015, only 15 per cent were satisfied with the council’s performance and only 17 per cent said they could trust the council to make the right decision. One year into the Goff mayoralty it would be surprising if the situation is any better. In fact given the recent bad publicity it’s probably even worse.

As it happens one of the most unpopular aspects of the Super City is the CCO Auckland Transport (AT). Now ensconced in plush harbourside offices at the Viaduct, AT is the cause of rising public resentment. Instead of a publicly-benign quietly efficient transport agency, AT’s image is the opposite. It has become a lightning rod for public discontent. Easily the majority of the complaints I receive as a councillor relate to AT’s failings. Despite being allocated billions of dollars over the last seven years, (most of our rates go to AT) too many Aucklanders are still complaining that their bus does not turn up on time, or worse doesn’t turn up at all. Meanwhile AT staff numbers have grown from about 1000 in 2010 to around 1600 today. There is too, I have found, a rather bad culture within AT and what happens internally in an organisation tends to be reflected externally.   Top-heavy, top-down, with its directors, councillors, local boards and public fed carefully processed information, AT has become increasingly unaccountable and wilful. The skewed ‘business case’ supporting light rail down Dominion Road to the airport rather than a comparatively short heavy rail link is a case in point.

Last month I was asked by officials of First Union (bus drivers) and RMTU (train staff) to present public petitions to AT management. These related to plans to make train staff redundant and AT’s interpretation of the bus contracting system which acts to drive down bus workers’ pay and conditions.  (Needless to say AT ignored the petitions and now strike action from RMTU members is pending).  I can say from my own experience that the success such as we have achieved in public transport in Auckland has been very much due to the efforts of our train and bus staff. Working split shifts, long hours, holidays and weekends to serve the public, they deserve our thanks. But while transport bureaucrats are happy to enhance their own pay and conditions what they plan for the workers who actually do public transport is a kick in the teeth.

But it’s not just public transport workers who have become embittered at AT. Currently there is growing frustration across my ward, from Parnell to Westmere, at AT’s interpretation of what ‘public consultation’ means, especially in relation to cycleways and the removal of on-street car parks. What has happened at West Lynn is particularly unfortunate. Back in 2016 (against the advice of myself and the Waitematā Local Board), AT pushed through the cycleway consultation during the local body election interregnum. There was little apparent willingness to take into account community views. I know because I actually tried to participate, suggesting to AT officers that they trial a cycleway down the median strip, in the centre of the road. This approach is used successfully overseas and does not impinge on car parks or traffic lanes. It’s a smart use of a very limited resource. But the AT people weren’t interested, it was apparent they had already made their minds up. I concluded then that the ‘consultation’ was a sham so I can well understand the incandescent anger at the mess AT have made of Richmond Road, Garnet Road (where 18 trees have been cut down) and the West Lynn shopping centre.

Public meeting at Grey Lynn RSC.  Business owners and residents express their anger at the lack of consultation  and the damaging impacts of AT's cycleway construction. (Photo Lisa Prager)

Public meeting at Grey Lynn RSC. Business owners and residents express their anger at the lack of consultation
and the damaging impacts of AT’s cycleway construction. ML at left. (Photo Lisa Prager)

The Richmond Road cycleway not only restricts traffic flows, including buses, but removes car parks vital to the livelihood of small retailers. They also take away parking from homeowners, who do not have off-street car parks. John Elliott recently undertook a survey in West Lynn and found that 16 out of 18 business people polled said ATs consultation was ‘poor’, one said it was ‘adequate’, one ‘didn’t know’. On the question ‘Did AT listen to submitters’? 18 said ‘no’ and not one said ‘yes’. The problem is AT is too big, and has been given too many responsibilities and too much power. With that has grown a corporate arrogance. AT needs refocusing, downsizing and a culture change but so does the parent Auckland Council. Sooner or later the new government is going to have to deal with both.


This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Ponsonby News.




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Jacinda and Winston – our brand new start

Far too many New Zealanders have come to view today’s capitalism not as their friend, but as their foe. And they are not all wrong. That is why we believe that capitalism must regain its responsible, its human face. We’ve had to make a choice, whether it was either with National or Labour, for a modified status quo – or for change. In our negotiations, both National and Labour were presented with that opportunity. Working together, co-operating together for New Zealand. We choose a coalition government of New Zealand First with Labour’.

With those dramatic words Winston Peters, this most extraordinary man, wrote himself a permanent place in New Zealand history.

The Labour-NZ First coalition Government 2017- New Zealand's brand new start.

The Labour-NZ First coalition Government 2017- New Zealand’s brand new start.

So first of all I warmly congratulate new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her coalition government. We know Jacinda well. Her extraordinary personal transformation as leader of the Labour Party certainly not only saved Labour from another, possibly fatal, defeat, it propelled her and Labour to what would have seemed only a few weeks ago, a most unlikely victory.   And to Winston, a long-standing Ponsonby resident, our congratulations and thanks. Jacinda’s sparkling charisma which has proven to shine brightest at the highest level of politics, however was not quite enough.   Two fundamental errors cost Labour votes – especially in Auckland. The sudden announcement of a capital gains tax, as has been well discussed, was ruthlessly exploited by National. It associated the newly invigorated Labour with the losing performance of the party under Phil Goff in 2011 and David Cunliffe in 2014.  The capital gains tax idea, along with the equally unpopular rolling back of superannuation had been dumped by Andrew Little but Labour’s Treasury-friendly old guard evidently persuaded the new leader to take it up again. Secondly the trams-to-the-airport policy was widely seen by Aucklanders as flaky – even among staunch Labour voters. These two policies served to raise fatal doubts among just too many swing voters. The trams policy too came from her old mentor Phil Goff but actually originated from the immensely powerful but widely distrusted Auckland Transport. It is supported by a small claque of Auckland Transport’s social media assets and their associates in the Greens – but not much anyone else.

Everyone makes mistakes. The mark of distinction is whether one learns from them. There is every evidence that our new Prime Minister does learn from mistakes and therefore will be a stronger leader for that. The ‘captain’s call’ on capital gains was soon reversed and I am hoping common sense will also prevail over the trams-to the-airport policy.

A rail link to the airport using high capacity fast electric trains is what Mr Peters has made very clear he prefers and without doubt the overwhelming majority of Aucklanders, whatever party they voted for, agree with him.

Obviously the policy arrangements of the new coalition government have not yet been made clear by the time this article goes to press. But from Mr Peter’s remarkable statement foreshadowing his party’s decision it is clear there will be a movement away, significant ‘change’, from the neoliberal paradigm that has determined the economic policies of both National and Labour for well over a generation.   Again without knowing the details, this change also reflects well on the leadership talents of Prime Minister Ardern. Ironically the shift to the left has come from the right, ie New Zealand First, (please excuse my using the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ which are now just about past their use-by date as these events demonstrate). However in conceding such a shift, Prime Minister Ardern is actually moving Labour policy back to its core philosophy and the instinctive preferences of its constituency – as opposed those of the Wellington-based ‘beltway’ leadership. Such a move strengthens the party at its foundations and moves NZ Labour in the same direction as the British Labour Party under the now widely-respected Jeremy Corbyn (once sneered at by the same ‘belt-way’ people). This is not only right up with international trends, but because NZ Labour is now actually in power – it actually puts Labour ahead of the curve. To commit to such a profound policy change makes the Prime Minister too an historical figure. That incomparable political commentator Machiavelli once observed ‘The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the people he has around him.’ [or her]. The lesson from the election campaign I hope will be that the new Prime Minister will be thinking very hard about the quality of advice she has been given by her old mentors. Mr Peters I hope will not only be Jacinda’s deputy but also her trusted advisor. Winston Peters is an extraordinary politician who for the last few weeks has held the whole country in his thrall. Indeed it might be said a worker of political magic on the scale of the Polynesian demi-god Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga. He is also a New Zealand patriot, a man of substance, of integrity and courage whom history has called forward in the country’s hour of need. This is an extraordinary story – and it has only just begun.

This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Ponsonby News



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The wreck of the Niagara – a clear and present danger

Readers of this site will be aware of the concerns I have been raising about the scale of pollution of our inner harbour and streams from sewage- contaminated stormwater. While the problem has been down-played by officialdom for years, thanks to the lobbying of the locally-based ‘Coalition’ (‘Stop Auckland Sewage Overflows’) and other citizens, the council appears to be moving out of the state of denial it was in only a few months ago and is promising to tackle the problem. We shall see.

While the pollution of the Waitematā is real and on-going, over the last year  I have been involved in raising awareness of another threat to our marine environment; this time in the outer Hauraki Gulf. While this threat is still only a potential one, it could be catastrophic in its consequences. The problem is oil trapped in the wreck of the Niagara.

RMS Niagara was a NZ Union Steam Shipping Co trans-Pacific liner sunk early in World War II in a mine ambush laid by a German navy raider. Niagara was built in 1913 for the Canadian – Australasian service. Such was its size and opulence she was known as ‘the Queen of the Pacific’.

RMS Niagara – ‘Queen of the Pacific’ – sunk by the German Navy June 1940. Painting by E.B. Norton. (Australian National Maritime Museum Collection, courtesy Searov Technologies).

On 20 June 1940 (only two weeks after the Dunkirk evacuation), a few hours after sailing from Queens Wharf bound for Suva, Niagara struck the mine and sunk. Fortunately all 349 passengers and crew were rescued (and most of the 8 tonnes of gold she was carrying later salvaged).  Niagara was also carrying a cargo of armaments, half the rifles and ammunition in New Zealand, hastily dispatched to Great Britain in her hour of need after Dunkirk.

The wreck lies at a depth of 120 metres, equidistant from the Mokohinau and Hen and Chicken Islands, just over 2 nautical miles inside the Auckland Coastal Marine Area and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.  The alarm was first raised by diver and conservationist Wade Doak and ROV expert Keith Gordon. Keith who wrote the authoritative history of the ship, ‘Deep Water Gold’, believes there is at least 1600 tonnes of bunker oil trapped within the wreck. He points out that other wartime wrecks are now collapsing and releasing oil – creating environmental headaches for Pacific nations like the Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. After being contacted last year by marine biologists and seabird scientists, I got involved. Since that time I have been working with Keith, and an international marine salvage expert Clive Sharp, trying to get something done about it.

Unfortunately officialdom ie Maritime NZ, the leading responsible agency, Auckland Council and Northland Regional Council are still very much in denial. To get around this wall of denial we decided to approach the regional conservation boards. In response to our joint presentation, the Auckland Conservation Board chair Lyn Mayes wrote to Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry and Transport Minister Simon Bridges: ‘The Board strongly recommends that funding is allocated to remove the oil from the Niagara now rather than waiting until the wreck erodes further and fuel is spilled into the Gulf creating an ecological disaster. Oil slicks up to 15 km long have already been seen from the wreck and a major spill would affect many of the 27 species of seabirds that live in the Hauraki Gulf, including Cook’s petrel, NZ storm petrel, black petrel, Pycroft’s petrel and fairy tern. Ecologists have expressed their concern about the risk to breeding colonies and habitat…Accordingly, we ask that urgent attention is given to making the wreck safe and removing the fuel oil from the Niagara. This is a preventable environmental disaster. It is better to act now to minimise the effects than to let the wreck totally fail in the next decade or so and have a catastrophic effect.’

In August, Keith, Clive and I, along with Karen Baird of Forest & Bird and Birdlife International, presented to the Northland Conservation Board where we received similar support. There has also been growing media interest.

The amount of oil that escaped from the Rena in 2011 was only 350 or so tonnes and we saw the damage it caused. The amount of oil in the Niagara is estimated to be four or five times that. The outer Gulf is an ecological hotspot – of world importance, especially for seabirds. It is also near some of our most important marine protected areas, the Poor Knights, Leigh and Tawharanui Marine Reserves. Waiting to react to a major pollution event is not tenable. The chemical dispersants normally used to deal with oil spills are highly toxic in themselves, as damaging to marine life as the oil. Preventative action is therefore needed. The oil needs to be extracted. The sinking of the Niagara was an act of war against New Zealand – 72 years after the Second World War, this act of war still presents a clear and present danger.




A version of this article appears in the October 2017 edition of Ponsonby News.

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Harbour ferry Kestrel and our waterfront in danger from bureaucratic group-think

The announcement by Ports of Auckland chairwoman Liz Coutts that it was ‘no longer acceptable’ for the port to reclaim the harbour was the most sensible utterance from any city leader on this subject for some time. But while Mayor Phil Goff continues to wrestle with his puzzling problem of how to sell the port and at the same time move the port, the prospect of another America’s Cup defence has returned the council’s focus to the rest of the waterfront.

In 2012, building on the momentum began by the Auckland Regional Council (ARC) in the Wynyard Quarter and the opening of Queens Wharf, Waterfront Auckland produced the Waterfront Plan. Created with a great deal of public participation, it was visionary and at the same time practical. However due mainly to rivalry between Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Transport in particular – critical momentum was lost. Subsequently in 2015, on the recommendation of the council chief executive, Waterfront Auckland was ‘reviewed’ out of existence. Its assets and waterfront-focussed mission was absorbed into another CCO, Auckland Council Properties Ltd, the entity given a new name ‘Panuku Development Auckland’, and with it a portfolio of non-waterfront-focussed responsibilities such as redeveloping the former Manukau City centre.

In recent weeks Panuku and Auckland Transport officials have been busy ‘refreshing’ the Waterfront Plan in public-excluded ‘workshops’. The proposals being rushed through entail significant departures from the Plan – without any intention of public consultation or input. As they presently stand many of the proposals (eg moving cruise ships from Queens Wharf to a significantly extended Captain Cook Wharf) are impractical and will destroy economic value and are therefore even more expensive than claimed.

Meanwhile of more urgency is the plight of one of Auckland’s oldest waterfront heritage icons, the harbour ferry Kestrel. This lovely old lady, the last of the big double-ended Waitemata ferries still afloat, could be lost forever if Panuku managers continue to stymie plans for her restoration and permanent place on our waterfront.

In recent years Kestrel had been owned by a charitable trust, the Kestrel Preservation Society. With backing from the ARC chairman’s discretionary fund in the last days before the ‘Super City’ and subsequently Waterfront Auckland, the Society did good work in rescuing her from Tauranga, bringing her back to Auckland and maintaining her.  In March 2016 however, Kestrel sank at her moorings, dashing the restoration hopes of the under-resourced Society.

But thanks to the intervention of Waterfront Auckland’s former CEO John Dalzell, Kestrel was refloated, her hull repaired and a purchase negotiated with a private developer, Darby Partners. They have come up with an exciting plan that has Kestrel the centre-piece of a visionary harbour-edge development, including boutique hotel accommodation and a restaurant. Interestingly Darby Partner’s preferred site, presently an unprepossessing office building and cafe, on Z Pier at inner Westhaven, is a stone’s-throw from the old Bailey’s shipyard where Kestrel was built over 112 years ago.

Unfortunately Panuku managers are claiming such use of the site is at odds with the Waterfront Plan (rather ironic given their secret plans to change it). Instead they want to push the project off to what the developers consider a commercially unsuitable site – one moreover already leased to Sandford.

Prior to the 2016 sinking, the Kestrel Preservation Society struggled to obtain funding for restoration. Given the lack of interest from Auckland Council and the Maritime Museum, if Kestrel cannot be restored as part of a viable commercial venture, then she is likely headed for the breakers’ yard.

Unhappily Panuku is doing what bureaucracies all too often do – taking forever to make any progress, prevaricating over options while charging $5000 a month for Kestrel’s berth. One can only ask why such an excellent development, one providing a rare opportunity for privately-financed maritime heritage restoration is being squandered? It is quite tragic that such a magnificent harbour city should be inflicted with such mediocre decision-making. Auckland deserves better than this.



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